Shacking Up

Commentary: In Exile

Some of the more unsavory politicians have defended the sanctity of marriage by describing same-sex couples who have been faithfully cohabitating for most of their lives as simply “shacking up.”

This description has been rightly derided by gays and the ever-shrinking demographic known as sensible Americans, but there’s an unpretty secret that the cohabitating gay community doesn’t want the world to know: Some of us are not lifelong partners, have not declared our undying love for each other in a church or a drunken haze, do not possess a joint checking account or share a dog. We are, in fact, simply shacking up.

I’m shacking up with my boyfriend right now. I was kicked out of my apartment and now we’re shacking up. Even as I type this on my iBook — a laptop, implying that I could leave at any unmarried moment — we’re shacking up.

If you’ve never considered shacking up, it comes highly recommended. I’m now living in the East Village for a mere $550 a month and splitting utilities. My wardrobe has doubled. I have access to over a thousand CDs. Work is six subway stops away, with no transfer, no interborough train, and no fifteen-minute walk to the nearest station.

And there have been purchases.

Following a rigorous review of our options, we ordered a set of Skandia shelves from The Container Store and a foot pedal dimmer for one of our lamps. We purchased cookware and cleared the stovetop of a deep back-issue archive of The Atlantic Monthly. We briefly considered a vintage sofa, and the benefits of an air-purifier were mulled. Thus confirming my assumption that the best thing about moving in with a boyfriend is a pleasantly tranquilized series of purchases and intelligent storage solutions to meet one’s needs.

People say that monotonous routine is what kills relationships; I think it saves them. As you gradually become complacent, you’re going to need the generalized sense of bland yet necessary activity that living in an apartment requires. You’ll no longer have sex, but you’ll have errands.

Perhaps this is why so many gay couples over-decorate their homes, have six cats and generally live as though they were two widowed grandmothers contemplating the end of their lives. The Move-In is celebrated in our culture as a sacred union between two people’s stuff. One’s ashtray is set upon another’s coffee table. Hers and hers land-lines join together to share a jack. Large, unnecessary art books are integrated on one lover’s shelf between the other’s bookends. Redundant items are distributed to friends in a carefree manner, sold, or discarded.

The Move-In is the foundation for countless sitcoms. Three’s Company anchors its plot on a clumsy man in residence with a pair of co-eds in a ground floor Santa Monica apartment. On My Two Dads, a young girl lives with her dead mother’s former sexual partners. Middle-aged sisters of failed marriages move in with their pediatrician father on Empty Nest.

These shows make more of cohabitation than necessary. As a child, I watched these programs and seethed with desperation to move out of my parents’ house and end up in a pratfall-prone multi-room apartment. Neighbors would drop by unexpectedly and leave the door open behind them. Landlords will take on a role in my life the magnitude of which would border on inappropriate. Life will devolve into a series of fanciful conundrums set against the backdrop of the apartment.

This is how I always thought of cohabitation. Newhart was not the basis of my fantasies. It was Perfect Strangers and Mork & Mindy. I foresaw a large pod in the living room from which a space alien would emerge, or a cousin from the island of Mepos. The stranger the living arrangement, the better, was what I assumed. This, of course, was before I’d experienced living with truly strange roommates in reality.

But my move-in with my boyfriend has been antic-free. I transported six live fish in a pail of water from Brooklyn to Manhattan using a stranger’s truck and exactly zero hi-jinks ensued. We have no wacky neighbor, although the man who lives in the apartment downstairs spent most of a recent night screaming to himself, “I can’t take it anymore” over and over, but that felt more frightening than wacky.

The truth is that cohabitation rarely results in improbable comedy, and I guess this is been the most surprising aspect: The extreme, almost unsettling ease that has accompanied the allegedly scandalous shacking up. Maybe it’s because this scenario was born of necessity and we’ve always, on some level, thought of it as temporary. But I’ve been here several weeks now, and I haven’t been looking for an apartment.

Is this so-called milestone really so casual? If so, I guess “shacking up” sounds just about right, not to mention kind of funky in a mohair-and-ultrasuede Afro-and-a-GTO 1970s sort of way.

Then, the other day, I considered a haircut. My temples were doing that thing where the hair curls outward in little cartoon tidal waves and my head appears as though it were preparing to take flight. My shackmate suggested his salon. It’s right in the neighborhood and not too expensive. But I couldn’t do it. We’re living together. We’re sharing a dimmer. We cannot get our hair cut at the same establishment.

Rick Santorum would probably say, “That’s so gay.” Maybe. But shacking up is not marriage, as he reminds us, and we’re not quite ready to share everything. That’s the beauty of the arrangement. That, and $550 a month.

Will Doig can be reached at wdoig@metroweekly.com.

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